Dream of the Four Directions

This entry is part 69 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


In a dream, an avocado tree in the backyard:
winds in typhoon season hailing fruit too high
to pick— In a dream, fluted shapes beneath

its branches: plumeria and ginger lilies.
Fragrant spikes turn brown at summer’s height,
wings folding back into the tree. Can you name

the shopkeepers all along the road into town,
opening their shutters in the morning?
The bakers have been at their trade

since well before the break of dawn,
pinching the yeasty hearts of bread
before their crusts darken at the touch

of flame. At the intersection, little boys
wait with rags to buff and shine the crowns of
leather shoes, and stray dogs roam the alleys

with hungry eyes. I turn and wonder
how the lake’s four corners have folded
into a handkerchief; how, looking

straight up from the street, the church’s twin
spires are compass points spinning slowly and I
their dizzy fulcrum, planted on the ground.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


Watch on Vimeo.

If you’ve been following this blog for even a little while, you must’ve noticed snippets from a blog called mole in the Smorgasblog and seen comments from its author, Dale Favier. Dale’s one of my oldest friends in the blogosphere (we’ve even met twice in person!) and he claims it was my example at Via Negativa that first got him to try his hand at modern poetry. (He had been primarily a fan of Victorian and Middle English poetry before that, so I think “modern” means “anything that doesn’t rhyme.”) Dale’s first collection of poems, Opening the World, is due out in September from the U.K.-based Pindrop Press, and I recently had the pleasure of reading it in manuscript. You can read what Luisa Igloria wrote about it on the publisher’s webpage.

With Dale’s book fresh in my mind, a sighting of a hairy-tailed mole in the lawn in front of my parents’ veranda on Monday morning seemed providential: videopoem material for the mole blogger! (See the Plummer’s Hollow blog for the full, 15-minute video and a few quotes about the largely unknown life of this mammal.) But figuring out which poem to envideo proved surprisingly difficult; several were a pretty good fit, but none was a perfect fit, I thought. Finding the right soundtrack was even more difficult, and consumed many hours. I’m not convinced that the trip-hop instrumental I finally settled on was optimal, but I think it works fairly well. A mole out foraging on the surface after daybreak does seem like an apt choice for a poem about mortality. There are a whole host of predators that could dispatch it at any moment — foxes, coyotes, weasels, fishers, feral cats, owls, hawks — especially considering how blind it is, and how close it let the three of us human watchers get.

I hasten to add that lack of awareness is not a characteristic I associate with Dale Favier! But vulnerability — perhaps, yes. I was a little more succinct than Luisa, but here’s the blurb I wrote:

Dale Favier is a new kind of American Buddhist poet, one less concerned with wisdom than compassion and desire, and as comfortable with the fables and paradoxes of the West as those of the East. His poems sing, chant, weep, declaim and delight. Earnest to a fault, yet always ready to indulge in foolishness and absurdity, Favier wears his erudition lightly and takes risks that few professional poets would take: “They have not written this in books;/ they would not dare; they have their suppers to earn.” Johan Huizinga wrote in Homo Ludens that poetry “proceeds within the play-ground of the mind,” and “the true appellation of the archaic poet is vates, the possessed, the God-smitten, the raving one.” Favier is one of the few modern poets I know who seems to fit this ancient mold. Opening the World documents no mere dalliance with ideas, but a life-long, passionate struggle with gods and mortals, love and death.

La fin d’une affaire

The sadness of discovering that a poet you’ve loved for years no longer speaks to you, that her lines no longer resonate — how can this be? Could you have been wrong all along, hearing things that weren’t there? (But poetry is always about what isn’t quite there, isn’t it?) Has reading too many other poets with a markedly different aesthetic spoiled you for hers? You keep taking that one book, your former favorite, off the shelf and trying again, to see if maybe you just have to be in the right mood. But if so, that mood no longer comes. How could you ever have found such dull and predictable work exciting?

Even as you wonder this, it occurs to you that perhaps your craving for excitement and diversion marks you as a shallow reader, a poor listener. You try reading a poem as slowly as possible, pausing often to let the words sink in. Nothing. Gradually you begin to realize that, right or wrong, the heart cannot be ignored, and whoever’s fault it may be, this once great pleasure, this astonishment, will come no more.

And then, three books away on the shelf, you notice one you’ve never opened since the day you brought it home from the book sale…

The Lovers

This entry is part 67 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


A restless wind turns over leaves
and enters, searching through the house
when we unlatch the windows.


Cobblestones emerge from under
veils of water and moss to turn
their eyes toward the sun.


What star is crossing rapidly toward another
in the heavens now? So glad for them, I turn
my face toward the light of their passing.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Two-line haiku

This entry is part 28 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life


A sudden waft of perfume at 1:00 a.m.:
night-blooming cereus.


Six hours of broken sleep.
I wake to find a web across my door.


I eat the good half of a hairy peach
as quickly as I can.


Distant tropical storm.
A small flock of migrants gusts around the yard.


Above the blue-and-while dogwood berries,
a blue-and-white warbler.


This entry is part 65 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


What did we hear that morning?
The sound of deer running through the woods;
and from over the ridge, that highway whine.

You said, The left hand is for warding off,
the right for receiving
. I tried to remember
the sequence of gemstones looped around the wrist—

peridot, bauxite, rose quartz, crystal, amethyst:
each one strung and tuned to the heart-strings.
So we reverberate to each other’s calling:

silence is a desert hung with midnight stars,
the thrum of quiet waking. Somewhere a wing,
rippling air that the other breathes.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Storm Warning

This entry is part 64 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


The barred owl calls, Who cooks for you?
Who cooks for you all?
Along the cobbled

streets now clear of cars, the lamps come on
at dusk. Banks of clouds haunch low on the horizon,

waiting for the soup to boil. Where’s the hail
of locusts, the plague of boils, the black

deaths clustered like walnuts on the branch?
Squirrels forage in the quiet before the storm.

Bead by bead they’ll hide their store
of afflictions, enough to eat through the cold.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Hope is the thing

Watch at Vimeowatch at YouTube.

This is not the video I intended to make. When I contacted Nic S. on Tuesday to ask if she’d be willing to record a reading of Dickinson’s poem, I’d just seen the one hundredth example of someone trying to illustrate the poem with a video of a goddamn bird, for christsake. I’d just shot some good footage of a toad that afternoon, and I thought, why not use that? Then this morning, I got some further inspiration and shot a dandelion sead head (that’s “dandelion clock,” for you Brits) blowing in the wind. It was gorgeous. It had “thing with feathers” written all over it.

The problem is, when I went ahead and made a videopoem with Nic’s reading over-top a recording of a wood thrush with the toad and dandelion clips, it was just too… you know. Too pretty. Dickinson wrote the poem in 1862. 1862! Hope was in pretty short supply that year.

So I took an hour’s nap, and when I got up, the solution was clear. Fortunately, the Prelinger Archives obliged. God, I love the internet! But not as much as I love Emily Dickinson.